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Taking a Personal Spiritual Checkup

Dr. Bruce Lancaster

August 7, 2016
Romans 12:1-8

A reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters,* by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual* worship. Do not be conformed to this world,* but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.*

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

Bruce Lancaster 2014An annual checkup – we’re all supposed to have them: be it for your house or your car, your finances or your health – we all are supposed to have one. Well, what about your spiritual health?  When was the last time you had a personal spiritual checkup?

I know there are some who think that an annual appearance in worship at Christmas or at Easter constitutes an ‘annual spiritual’ – but there is more to it than that. Paul writes to the Corinthians that they should “examine themselves…” before taking communion.”

Our text this morning from his letter to the Romans is the summary statement of the outcome of that examination: “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable, to God which is your spiritual worship.” And when Paul is talking about our bodies, it’s not a matter of tummy tucks or hair loss or spare tires we carry – it’s all a matter of life, real life, our thoughts and words and deeds of daily living that are given to God.

The sermon today is, in essence, urging an ‘annual spiritual” – a checkup of the state of our spiritual health as a Sabbath discipline, a time for us to evaluate our spiritual health and take whatever steps are needed for our continual spiritual well-being.

One of the challenges of our time is that many of our people have no awareness of their need for spiritual health. “Our task,” said the great Jewish scholar, Abraham Heschel, “is to bring God back into the world, into our lives. To worship is to expand the presence of God in the world.” So when Paul talks about ‘presenting our bodies…which is our spiritual worship’, one way to look at is a way to remember and keep the Sabbath wholly (w-h-o-l-l-y) and holy (h-o-l-y).

So what do we check?

I have four words for you to build on for your checkup: Confession, Conflict, Conversation, and Change.

Good numbers, low numbers, bad numbers, high numbers?

First of all – CONFESSION: Any unconfessed sins in your life?  Is your unconfessed sin level low or high?  It’s a little overwhelming when you think about it, isn’t it?

There could be so many!  Our actions and our inaction involve sin.  We did some things we should not have done; we failed to do some things we should have done. When we’ve substituted hatred for love; for every sneer and snub, for every unkind word and unjust judgment, for every self-righteous opinion, we need to confess.

It is not our decision to determine whether it is too small to be mentioned or so big we think it can’t be forgiven.  Our task is simply to be honest, to open our hearts to God.

Max Lucado, one of my favorite writers, says that “confession is telling God you did the thing he saw you do.  God doesn’t need to hear it as much as you need to say it.”

Any personal spiritual checkup begins with confession, and our second word is CONFLICT: Any unresolved conflicts in our life that need to be made right?  High number, low number? Any number isn’t good, is it?

We need to check our lives in light of Christ’s teachings and repent.  Feeling a genuine sorrow and acting to make it right.  James Baldwin reminds us that “not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

You know the key to new life is often to hear three words, “I forgive you.”  And those three words depend upon three words from you or me: “I am sorry.”

A personal spiritual checkup includes confession and facing unresolved conflicts, and the third word is CONVERSATION: When and where in your life are you living the Word?  When you look at the monitor for that conversation, is it a steady rate?

I don’t mean ‘talk about God’ – which tends to be lecture, or ‘talk with God’ – which is personal prayer.  What I wonder about in your spiritual checkup is your life that reflects God’s image in you, your spiritual worship.

Mature Christians are supposed to speak the truth in love, says Paul, a conversation that characterizes our way of life as disciples of Jesus Christ. But how many times have you been approached by a Christian brother or sister who begins the conversation with, “Now, I’m telling you this because I love you” and then you get a double-barrel shot of grumbling and criticism, a flood of negative, degrading words that tear down and never build up.

I love the prayer of the little girl who prayed, “Dear God, make the bad people good and the good people nice.”

Of course, with all the people we have here, there will be disagreements, but one of the great lessons I learned from a wise elder in the church, “We can disagree without being disagreeable.”

Because the way we talk with each other and the way we talk about each other; the way we live with each other and the way we live for others tells the world about God’s love in Jesus Christ.

A personal spiritual checkup includes confession, conflicts, conversation, and finally, the end result of a personal spiritual checkup –

CHANGE: When our annual medical checkup is finished, all the test results are in, then our doctors usually have some suggestions as to specific diagnoses, if there are problems—changes in lifestyle as to diet, exercise, adequate rest, stress.

So the big question is, “How are you being transformed to what is good and acceptable and perfect for God?”

The problem is that when it comes to spiritual health, we always want everyone else to be better than we are willing to be ourselves. We readily embrace the changes we choose for own lives, but we seem to fight those that are forced on us, don’t we? It’s our sin of wanting to be like God, for what we know about God is that the nature of God does not change—Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, we know from the letter to the Hebrews.

It’s the book we all write, “I’m OK, you’re NOT!”

Yet what we know from the prophets and John the Baptist, from Paul’s letters and from Jesus himself, God is the God who introduces change into our lives, “I make all things new,” says God in the Revelation of John.

Or as God said through the prophet Isaiah, “Behold, I am doing a new thing. Will you not be aware of it?” And as Paul wrote in the second letter to the Corinthians, “If you are in Christ, you are a new creation…everything old has passed away…everything has become new!”

This is not change for its own sake, but these are changes which build you up in the body of Christ, changes which allow you to grow closer to God, changes which always accompany anything new. This is the transformation, the change that lies beneath the great question Jesus asked of the paralytic: “Do you want to be healed?”

If you don’t, no checkup is needed. But if you do want to get stronger in your life with Jesus, then you are ready to take a personal spiritual checkup—confession, conflict, conversation—that allows us to change, and then we can say as the old mountain woman did, “I ain’t what I ought to be; I ain’t what I’m gonna be; but thank God, I ain’t what I used to be!”

Then we’re ready, aren’t we, to ‘present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God”?